Teen Page: Phoenixville student helps build houses in Haiti

A river in the small town of Grand Goave that is dried and full of trash

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Haiti was once a slave country ruled by France, and the slaves successfully revolted and won the battle (1791-1804), but had to pay for their independence or France would launch a war at them. They lost their wealth buying their independence off of France and have been ever since. In 2010, Haiti was struck by an enormous earthquake and the capitol building, along with thousands of other buildings ended up destroyed. Many of those who lost their homes survive with two dollars a day and two pairs of clothes.

During the month of March, I traveled to Haiti for a week with about 10 other missionaries in an attempt to help out by bringing supplies, and building houses. When we arrived at Port Au’ Prince, the country’s capitol, the temperature was a burning 85°degrees with 100 percent humidity. As I looked out the window minutes before landing I noticed bright blue shores, but right next to them a grey-brown glob of pollution in the water coming from a neighborhood.

We landed in a grass field, where I could spot some planes that must have been on the ground during the earthquake that occurred January 2010, for their wings were snapped or they had no wheels. We left the airport on a bus that was sent for us from the shelter, and passed large but not very tall buildings with razor wire fences.

The smell of Haiti was indescribable, and minutes after riding in the bus I was coughing up grey junk that I inhaled from the dirty atmosphere. The shelter was 40 miles from the airport, but it took us four hours because of the traffic and lack of enforced traffic laws. To battle against traffic, we had a train horn on our bus and an excellent driver by the name of François. The tent cities seemed to never end because we saw them stretch as far as visible in all directions during the entire drive.

When we arrived at the shelter around six o’clock, we were given a schedule on what days we would do what.Then we were given a very salty dinner because it helps in the hot conditions of Haiti. Our dorms consisted of iron bunk-beds, hand welded by some of the workers in the shelter. We had the privilege of an air conditioner, toilets, sinks, outlets and showers. The showers were terrifying because they were heated by a mechanism attached to it with a bare copper wire wrapped around the shower head, and we were told not to touch it or it would electrocute us. I was too tall and had to kneel to avoid hitting my head on it.

The next day I had to take malaria pills to keep myself from catching the disease. I then applied heavy-duty bug spray with 100-deet, and sun screen. Our first job was splitting the group. We each took different locations to build full-mortar housing. I was fortunate to get the one within walking distance, but when we arrived it was within an alleyway. The sun seemed almost focused with a magnified glass and all the rubble from the previous house was still sitting there, unlike the other place. The family that we were building the house for was living under a bit of ceiling, tarp, and wood attached to half a wall.

Work was hard, for we had to first remove the rubble, then remove the foundation and replace it, and finally build the house. It took us all day to remove the rubble and start breaking foundation. Halfway through the process a chunk of concrete with a knife blade half protruding from it fell on my ankle and cut me. I decided to keep the blade for when it was needed.

The following day we were given a break (break meaning a different task) and we had to sort the donations given by U.S. citizens to the children they were sponsoring. It was a very difficult task because the line of children never shortened, and we were having the worst time matching the child with the donation. Watching a 5-year-old child lift a box half her weight intended to feed her family and carry it two or more miles to her house was heartbreaking.

Then the day after, we switched houses and I got to build a house in the shade, which soon turned to me having to babysit the Haitian children who wanted to help and keep them out of trouble. The day after (Thursday) we were in charge of shelter housecleaning. We sorted the soaps and hygienics for distribution to Haitian citizens. We also had to snip off the corners of high mineral rice packets to prevent people from reselling the packets in case their child had a deformity and they refused to feed it.

Haiti’s primary religion is a version of voodoism, which dictates that voodoo believers can have multiple mates and if an offspring is born with a deformity, that offspring should be left to starve. There were many situations in which we would find a child with autism, or an extra toe or finger, and the child was being starved and was too weak to even cry because he/she had so little life left. One way to get a parent to feed the deformed child was for nurses to refuse to feed the normal child unless the parent agreed to allow the deformed one to be fed too.

Upon my last two days, I decided to sponsor a child named Robenson, who has eight siblings. I hope to someday be able to come back to personally build them a house so they don’t have to live in a tent the size of a large closet. The last night at the shelter, our whole mission group was treated to a Haitian feast that consisted of beans mixed with rice, heavily salted chicken, and plantain chips. I thought the meal was fantastic until the following morning when we had to leave at two o’clock to go to the airport and I was violently ill during the bumpy two hour ride. I was well the next day though.

The trip was a great experience that humbled me. Now I look at situations back home and realize that I am much more fortunate. Ironically, the Haitians are much friendlier and happier that than people back home, even though we have many more luxuries. I hope this message of my trip and the experiences I have shared will help teach others to be happy with what they have, help the community, and be aware of the problems that are occurring in a small country two hours off the coast of Florida.

Our mission’s team. Leader: Dan (front-center) me (far left)

A river in the small town of Grand Goave that is dried and full of trash

captions: First house’s location. I am in the back moving a piece of wall foundation halfway lodged in the ground

The shelter where we stayed Becky(left) and Kelsey(right)hanging out with the helpers of the daycare and school at the shelter